Cheetahs Invited To Join PRO12?

The South African Super rugby union outfit, Cheetahs based in Bloemfontein have denied a BBC report last week that they have been officially invited to join the Pro12 next year although they have not denied discussions with the league.

With SANZAAR cutting Super Rugby from 18 teams to 15 in 2018, the Cheetahs and the Kings have emerged as the favourites to lose their status.

According to a report published on the BBC website last week, the Cheetahs have already been invited to take part in the Pro12.

There have been suggestions that this should be the route that the Cheetahs and Kings may take, but until now there has been no indication that it might happen. The Pro12 is seeking ways to increase its revenue and marketability and has investigated setting up a franchise in the US.

No official statement has yet been made about the South African sides being cut from the Super competition.

Super 7s Latest Idea To Woo US Audiences

Plans were announced this week for an ambitious professional rugby union sevens competition featuring 48-minute matches, kicking off in the US next year The Guardian has reported.

The Super 7s format was trialled in Philadelphia in 2014 with a game between teams from New York and Canada. The new concept is designed to broaden the appeal of sevens rugby union to US TV audiences away from the traditional one- or two-day tournament model, involves interchangeable squads of 16 to 21 players playing four 12-minute quarters.

Organisers said there will be three-minute breaks between quarters, a six-minute halftime and no drawn games. Any game level at the end of regular play will be decided by “a tie-breaking two-on-one skills competition” known as “The Gauntlet”.

According to a statement from United World Sports, the New York company that runs the USA Sevens in Las Vegas, the seven-a-side Collegiate Rugby Championships and the 15-a-side Varsity Cup, Super 7s will “launch with a barnstorming six city ‘Pro Tour’ across the United States next July following the 2018 Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco”, prior to league play beginning with city-based teams in 2019.

Players for six men’s teams and six women’s teams will be taken “largely from college and club programmes already in the US and Canada”, UWS said, prior to “an historic inaugural Super 7s League draft”.

The “Pro Tour”, the company added, will act as a “roadshow that showcases the sport of Super 7s to build the profile of the game, engage strategic partners, and identify key markets as the league evolves into a full city by city league in the spring and summer of 2019”.

David Niu, an Australian-born USA international who played professional rugby league for St George in Australia and Bradford Bulls in the UK, has been named president of Super 7s, having recently returned from working on the expansion of Arena Football in China.

“I am very enthused about the launch of Super 7s in North America,” he said. “It certainly fits the American psyche for fast, exciting, yet short content … we are ready to take a sport that will appeal to a wide audience with a very short learning curve to new levels of engagement.”

Crosssan Appeals For Investors In London Irish Dream

London Irish owner Mick Crossan has told The Rugby Paper that he’s looking for new backers to step forward after admitting he can no longer afford to sustain heavy losses as the club prepare for a new season in the Premiership.

The article by Neale Harvey explained that Crossan’s company, Powerday has covered annual deficits of £2m-£3m, but he knows that without extra finance they will struggle to compete.

Irish lost more than £2m in season 2015-16, their last in the Premiership, and with average crowds in the Championship falling to just 4,000, Crossan will stump up nearly double that amount this year after maintaining a Premiership-standard squad.

Irish’s turnover of just £8.7m was the second lowest in the Premiership in 2015-16, while only Sale and Newcastle had smaller wage bills. A £2m cash boost from top-flight central funding will help but Exiles require far more than that to prosper.

Crossan told TRP: “The challenge first and foremost is to stay in the Premiership and build on what we’ve created in the Championship. In that respect, taking a step back has not been the worst thing because we’ve rebuilt.

“But financially relegation has been tough and if we want to build London Irish back to the club it can be, we need to get more people to invest.

“I need people to help with the bills. My bank balance was a lot better before I took over London Irish three years ago and my wife will testify to that, but I took on a challenge and I’ve always done that. Sometimes your heart rules your head and London Irish is a passion I’ll never waver from, but we now need more help funding-wise.”

“It wasn’t long ago that we were in a Premiership final, made a Heineken Cup semi-final and were attracting crowds of 12,000-14,000 on a regular basis, but now we need new backers to step forward and help us achieve our dreams.”

Stade Francais About To Go Wild?

Paris Top 14 club, Stade Francais is about to be sold to the German Capri-Sun owner, Hans-Peter Wild.

Current club president, Thomas Savare is reported to have opted for Wild’s proposal over that of the former players Thomas Lombard, Christophe Dominici and Mathieu Blin (among others).

Born in Germany but resident in Switzerland, Wild (75) has a resources estimated at almost 3 billion euros (£2.55bn). Nicknamed “the Doctor”, he has been supporting rugby for several years in Germany, having first supported the club in his hometown of Heidelberg, where his father played rugby and then founded in 2007 an academy that bears his name and sponsoring the German national team.

“The longevity of the club has oriented my choice,” explained Thomas Savare in a press release this week. “But I wanted to pay tribute to the group of former players who mobilized to propose a project.”

Thomas Savare still has to submit his choice to the board of directors of the company for approval.

The club has been struggling with an uncertain future since a failed attempt by Savare to merge with Paris rival Racing 92 earlier in the year.

Nigel Davies Named New Merthyr Chief Executive

Former Scarlets, Wales and Gloucester coach, Nigel Davies has been confirmed as new chief executive of Welsh Premiership champions Merthyr RFC.

Davies will be focusing on the commercial side of the club with Dale McIntosh moving to head coach and Lee Jarvis becoming backs coach.

He will be taking on a new role after two years coaching Ebbw Vale. Methyr claimed the Premiership title by beating Aberavon 22-18 in last weekend’s play-off final at the Talbot Athletic Ground.

Revealing the news of Davies’ recruitment, Merthyr’s multi-millionaire backer Sir Stanley Thomas told Wales Online he was delighted to have got his man.

“Coming off the back of a successful first season in the Premiership, we see this new position as central to driving forward with our ambitious plans both on and off the field,” he said.

“We have a clear vision about the positive role we can play in the community to engage and inspire young people.

“We haven’t always in the past brought in sufficient funds to continue to support the club. Nigel has been brought in to do that. We have got to try and maximise the facilities we have at The Wern.

“He will also be responsible for developing a clear pathway with local clubs, colleges and Cardiff Blues, as well as building a good relationship with the WRU.

“Nigel is a bright, intelligent man with wonderful experience and we are very pleased to have him on board.

“It’s more good news on the back of our title win. We are the champions in our first season and that’s something you would never have thought we co do.”

Cardiff Blues Pull-Out Of WRU Takeover

Cardiff Blues have pulled out of talks with the WRU about handing over the management of the region to the governing body.

In an open letter to fans, chief executive Richard Holland explained that they would no longer be pursuing that option, be it temporary or permanent.

His letter said:

“I am writing on behalf of the Cardiff Blues board to update you on the dialogue that has been taking place between ourselves and our governing body, the Welsh Rugby Union, and on negotiations with Cardiff Athletic Club regarding a lease extension at Cardiff Arms Park.

“It was mentioned at the recent AGM by myself that talks had taken place with the WRU to explore how they could assist us during the potential redevelopment of Cardiff Arms Park, which led to further discussions regarding taking control of the rugby operation both on a temporary and permanent basis. The board wanted to fully explore all options available to them and to decide on the best way forward.

“Following amicable discussions with our governing body, I can now confirm the Cardiff Blues board have made the unanimous decision not to pursue this option further.

“I would like to add however, our relationship with the WRU is as strong as ever and along with Martyn Phillips (WRU CEO) and the other regions’ CEOs, we will continue to explore the best way forward for the future of professional rugby in our region and in Wales.

“With only five years remaining on the existing lease and the annual costs of maintaining the current facility escalating, the Cardiff Blues board are resolutely focused on extending the lease and redeveloping Cardiff Arms Park to provide a fit for purpose stadium for both Cardiff Rugby Football Club and Cardiff Blues.

“The history and heritage of Cardiff Rugby at Cardiff Arms Park is of paramount importance to the board and it is essential to protect all elements of this great club and its iconic home.

“We remain in ongoing negotiations with Cardiff Athletic Club regarding the granting of a new 150-year lease with development rights and are very hopeful of an agreement with the CAC management board.

“I am currently in the process of scheduling a meeting to agree the legal terms with CAC management representatives so they can call an EGM to vote on the matter.

“It is my intention to write to all CAC members outlining the key elements of the legal documents being negotiated.

“I will also share with members some potential concept ideas for the redevelopment. These concepts are purely an indication of what could be achieved, from the replacement of the North and South stands to a complete redevelopment of the entire site, with the playing of rugby being the priority.

“We will keep our key stakeholders fully updated on the progress. If approval is granted to trigger the option period we will form a working party to ensure the interests of all stakeholders are fully represented as we take things forward and develop a future home for both Cardiff RFC and Cardiff Blues at this iconic site.

“This will include members of the Board, staff, shareholders, CAC members, corporate partners, Cardiff Blues Supporters Club and representation from CF10 Trust.

“We thank you for your support and cooperation at this time and I will keep you updated as matters progress with Cardiff Athletic Club.“

RPA Reject Extension Of Playing Season

The RPA, representing professional rugby union players in England, has rejected proposals by Premiership Rugby to extend the domestic playing season in 2020 and beyond as a response to the adjustments to a new global schedule due to be implemented.

World Rugby agreed to move the summer international games window from June to July after completion of the next World Cup cycle. Premiership Rugby’s proposal was to extend competitive fixtures into June with the same season start date but with focus on player welfare.

The RPA were initially cautious of supporting these proposals in March, but – following the RPA players’ board meeting earlier this month – they have unanimously rejected the proposals in their current form.

An RPA statement read:

“The RPA has always sought to work collaboratively with Premiership Rugby to address player welfare concerns. It therefore caused significant concern and disappointment to our members to learn of Premiership Rugby’s plans to extend the domestic season via a press release in late March. This proposal had not previously been discussed with the RPA.

“Despite this disappointment, Premiership Rugby were invited to present their proposals in more detail to the RPA players’ board on Wednesday 10th May. However, after due consideration, the board unanimously rejected these proposals in their current form.

“The Premiership season is already longer than comparable contact sports, including Super League, NFL and AFL. Extending an already arduous season from nine months to ten has serious implications for players, given the potential increase to the game, training and psychological loads they face. The physical and mental strain placed on participants of professional contact sport cannot be underestimated.

“We believe the reduction of the domestic off-season from three to two months will have a seriously detrimental effect on player welfare unless substantial guaranteed safeguards are introduced. The RPA fought hard for the inclusion of a mandatory 5-week off-season break in the standard Premiership contract, but players also require an extensive pre-season period to sufficiently prepare themselves for the physical demands of the season. A significant off-season period is essential to provide physical and, crucially, mental respite for our members.

“Perhaps most worryingly is the incredible strain these proposals would place on International players. If the Premiership season retains its current start date, the addition of a July tour schedule will lead to an 11-month season for these players. This cannot be avoided unless these players start their domestic season later, which brings into question the need for the season extension.

“All players fully recognise the fundamental role Premiership clubs and Premiership Rugby have played in investing in and creating a thriving domestic league in England since the onset of professional game over 20 years ago. Whilst we also acknowledge that the reduction of overlaps between international and domestic rugby is desirable, we do not believe the current proposals are viable.”

Newport RFC EGM Votes For WRU Take Over

Newport Gwent Dragons will be taken over by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) following Tuesday night’s historic Newport RFC shareholder vote. The nine-acre Rodney Parade site is included in the £3,750,000 (€4.4m) deal with the WRU set to assume operational control on the 1st of July.

The vote, recorded at an EGM at Rodney Parade, was approved by 81% of the vote, in excess of the 75% required in the company’s Articles of Association.

Newport Gwent Dragons chairman Martyn Hazell, alongside fellow principal benefactor Tony Brown, will write off £4.4 million (€5.18m) in debt as part of the agreement with neither wishing to be considered for a place on the reconstituted boards.

Newport Gwent Dragons and Newport RFC CEO Stuart Davies said:

“This is a huge moment in the history of Newport Gwent Dragons. The decision is the result of two years of hard work and we must express our gratitude to everyone involved in the process. We now look forward to a bright future for the Dragons, as well as Newport RFC, and the continuation of rugby at this historic venue.”

“This was an incredibly complex take-over. It was important to explain to shareholders and supporters the intricacies of the deal, and to outline the extent of the debt as a driving factor. There was also a need to give as much detail as possible around our vision for Rodney Parade under the WRU’s ownership.

“We would like to acknowledge the contribution of shareholders and supporters in shaping the final detail, and we are grateful that enough of those involved have supported the ‘Yes’ vote.”

Rodney Parade staff will migrate over to the WRU on 1st of July at which point a new subsidiary company will be formed.

Newport RFC will benefit from autonomy and appoint new board of directors alongside a possible management committee.

Newport RFC chairman Will Godfrey said:

“This separation of entities means Newport RFC will benefit from an ability to restructure and a new found autonomy.”

“This decision also guarantees that we can continue playing at Rodney Parade, and building on our proud 140 years of history and tradition here.”

5-Year Eligibility Rule For Rugby Union From 2021

The World Rugby Council has approved reforms to eligibility rules extending the 3-year residency qualification for a player to qualify to play for his or her country of residence to five years. The ruling was passed unanimously and will take effect from 31st December 2020.

The reformed Regulation 8 ensures that a player has a genuine, close, credible and established link with the nation of representation, and the key amendments are:

• The 36-month residency requirement is increased to 60 months with effect from 31 December, 2020

• The addition of a residency criteria which permits players who have 10 years of cumulative residency to be eligible (effective May 10, 2017)

• Unions may no longer nominate their U20s team as their next senior national representative team (effective 1 January, 2018)

• Sevens players will only be captured for the purposes of Regulation 8 where the player has represented either of (i) the senior national representative sevens team of a union where the player has reached the age of 20 on or before the date of participation; or (ii) the national representative sevens team of a union in the Olympic Games or Rugby World Cup Sevens, having reached the age of majority on or before the date of participation in such tournament (effective 1 July, 2017)

The landmark decision follows agreement on a long-term optimised global international calendar beyond 2019 and represents another major reform for World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont and vice-chairman Agustín Pichot in the first year of their four-year mandate.

Beaumont said: “This reform of Regulation 8 governing eligibility is an important and necessary step to protecting the integrity and credibility of international rugby. This extension to the residency period within a forward-thinking reform package will ensure a close, credible and established link between a union and players, which is good for rugby and good for fans.

“I would like to thank my union colleagues for their support and in particular the leadership role that Agustín Pichot played in this very important process that has delivered an outcome that is good for the global game.”

The WR Council met in Kyoto, Japan before the draw for the 2019 RWC.

MLR Forms A New Plan For Pro Rugby In The US

Professional rugby union in the United States will rise again in 2018 in the form of Major League Rugby (MLR) which claimed in a press release late last week that it will become the premier rugby competition in the United States.

Formed and owned mostly by a group of pre-existing domestic clubs the inaugural league will feature nine teams in a competition to run in the spring of 2018 and to climax before the June international test window.

MLR will launch with members in: Glendale, CO; Kansas City, MO; Dallas, TX; Houston, TX; Austin, TX; New Orleans, LA; Seattle, WA; Minneapolis, MN; and Salt Lake City, UT.

A final team and venue list, player contract information, and 2018 schedule will be released in the coming months. Beyond 2018, MLR plans to expand to more cities with an emphasis on finding the right partners, markets and venues.

US rugby website reports that the league will be run from Salt Lake City, and the current front office includes commissioner Dean Howes and deputy commissioner Nick Benson. Howes is said to have had an extensive background in professional sport, having formerly been involved with NHL and MLS in the city.

MLR is owned by its member teams, all of which own themselves. This is in contrast to the recently failed PRO Rugby model which was owned centrally by Doug Schoninger. PRO is still the sole professional league sanctioned by USA Rugby. Although no official comment has been issued, the national governing body is expected to exercise an exit clause, which would see sanctioning of PRO to end in the spring of 2018 in time for the first MLR season.